After checking into a luxurious Laguna Beach resort, the Parks made the ultimate exit from suburban life.
By DREW LIMSKY
Special to Los Angeles Times
Limsky teaches English and journalism at Hunter College and Pace University in New York and is completing a book on Joan Didion’s nonfiction.
April 27, 2007 – The Scrooge Report Post
IN 1973, TOM WOLFE elected Joan Didion into the coveted circle of New Journalists after the latter published, in the Saturday Evening Post, “How Can I Tell Them There’s Nothing Left?”
It was the story of Lucille Miller, a suburban California housewife who was convicted of murdering her dentist husband for the insurance money and to be free to run off with her more prosperous lover.
By then the piece had been retitled “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” for inclusion in Didion’s groundbreaking collection, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” and the essay invited readers to see Miller as a weathervane, an emblem of California in the late 20th century, “a tabloid monument to [the] new life style.”
In this and other essays, Didion wrote of the ways in which the country’s “center was not holding,” and regarded unmoored postwar Californians as especially susceptible to the kind of delusions that led to random, reckless acts. Didion wrote that Miller, who fancied herself a vixen out of “Double Indemnity,” “had somehow misunderstood the promise” of the West and let her febrile dreams of social mobility unwind into madness. “This is a Southern California story,” wrote Didion.
Perhaps Miller “had wanted too much,” Didion told us. But this dentist’s wife “who believed in all the promises of the middle class” and yearned for “the good life” had settled for “a modest house on the kind of street where there are always tricycles and revolving credit and dreams about bigger houses, better streets.”
The bigger house and better street came, but it was still not enough for her. In the end, she was found guilty by store clerks and homemakers, “the very peers … above whom Lucille Miller had wanted so badly to rise.”
Last Saturday night, a pair of married real estate agents from Mission Viejo checked into the Montage Resort & Spa, one of the most spectacularly situated resorts on the Southern California coast, a luxurious getaway built in the California Craftsman bungalow style — only, in typical California-visionary fashion, this “bungalow” has 262 rooms.
The couple may or may not have booked spa treatments or made reservations at the bluff-top Studio restaurant. They may or may not have packed sunscreen and beach books for their Laguna Beach jaunt. But they did pack heat and a bag of ammo.
The next day, Kevin Park and his wife, Joni, who allegedly also had dreamed of bigger houses, better streets, the good life, were dead after an early morning standoff with local police. This is not just a California story; this is a Joan Didion story.